Breaking Down The Barriers

Read Ephesians 2:11-22

Throughout the New Testament, whether in the narrative stories of the four gospels and the book of Acts, or in the teaching letters that make up the rest of the New Testament, we read about the great love that God has for all of mankind.  He demonstrated this by sending His Son, Jesus, to live among people to teach them about the Kingdom of Heaven and then to die on a cross to make the payment for all of our sins.  This is called Grace!  And for many people, this is considered a great mystery.  And in the Bible it says that “many prophets and righteous men longed to see…and hear…” the things that the disciples of Jesus saw and heard. (Matthew 13:17)  Even the angels look on at God’s wonderful acts of grace and are amazed. (1 Peter 1:12)

But there is more to this mystery than just man being reconciled with God, although this is in and of itself an amazing truth.  What may be even more amazing for some people is that Jesus’ sacrifice has paved the way for people to be reconciled to other people.  Considering how many wars there have been over time, and continue to be between people, it is almost beyond belief that warring parties could ever put down their weapons, put away their hostility, and forgive each other, even to the point of calling each other “brother”.

This is what Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:19.  From the time of Abraham up until our present day, there has been hostility between the twelve tribes of Israel, which eventually became known as the Jewish people, and all other people groups of the world, whom they called “Gentiles”.  But Paul teaches us that those who are joined with Christ become “one people”.  Jesus tore down the “dividing wall of hostility” and made one people out of two.

This expression used here, “the dividing wall of hostility”, is thought of by many commentators to be an allusion to the wall found within the Temple at Jerusalem that separated the Jews from non-Jews, prohibiting the latter from entering in further into the Temple.  It was a constant reminder to the Gentiles that they did not have direct access to the God of the Jews, who is in fact really the God of all mankind.  But Jesus broke down that barrier and has allowed both Jew and Gentile to be able to come directly into God’s presence.  And in the process, he eliminated the hostility that had existed between them.

I can’t help but think of a fascinating experience that we had while we lived in a village in Papua New Guinea.  Having lived in PNG for a few years, I was well aware of the fact that hostilities run deep in the culture there, and fights can break out at any time.  One of the reasons why most villages are small in PNG, often less than a hundred people, is because of these constant rivalries, feuds, disputes, and hostilities that break out.

This led to a distinct problem in that country over the centuries, namely how to get wives for the men of the village.  Until recently, one of the ways the people solved this was to go out on raiding parties and storm another village, taking some of the young women for their men.  If the village about to be raided had enough warning, they would construct a solid bamboo wall to block the raiders from gaining entry into the village.  For millennia, there have literally been walls of hostility built up between the people groups of PNG.

So it was of great interest to me and my family when we heard that a man from our village was going to “claim” his wife-to-be from a neighbouring village.  We watched the men of our village as they put on their war paint and get ready to raid the other village.  We followed them down the trail to the other village.  And as expected, there was a massive bamboo and foliage barrier blocking our path.

That’s when things really got interesting.  Men on both sides of the barrier yelled and hooted and hollered as loud as they could.  Some men with bow and arrows jumped around looking for a target.  Others who had long spears or machetes banged them together and made threatening advances against the barricade.  All around me was noise and confusion, until suddenly, the barricade fell inwards and in one big rush we swarmed into the village.

All the men of this village were corralled into one side of the open square, and all the women were gathered together on the other side.  Meanwhile, our men searched the entire village until finally the wife-to-be was found and brought to the open square and presented to the hunting husband.  And do you know what happened next? ….. Suddenly, all the people from both villages clapped, and cheered, and laughed at the great entertainment they had that day.  It turned out that everyone was play-acting, while still remembering their tribal culture of days gone by.

So what changed these tribal people so that they could embrace their neighbouring villages, instead of going to war with them?  I’m sure there are many factors that are involved with this change in PNG.  But I am convinced that the entry of Christianity over the past 100 years into these primitive areas of the world has had a profound effect on the people.  Where there had been dividing walls of hostility before, now I am seeing more and more that the people of PNG are embracing each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  This is what Christ came to do, to reconcile mankind with God, and also to reconcile men and women with each other.

Thank you Jesus, that You are the Lord of all!

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